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STL@HOU: Norris fans 12 over six strong innings

Both the Cubs and Astros are coming off painful losses heading into a three-game series this weekend at Wrigley field.

After two straight wins over the Mets gave the Cubs a shot of confidence, everything blew up in their faces on Wednesday, when they absorbed a 17-1 beating heading into an off-day Thursday. And Houston blew a two-run lead in the ninth to lose, 7-3, at home against San Diego on Thursday.

"It's a beautiful game -- there's 162 of them, and you have to have a short memory," catcher Geovany Soto said after Wednesday's loss.

The Cubs, 26-49 and in last place in the National League Central, turn to Paul Maholm to try to get back on track on Friday.

Maholm is 4-6 with a 5.38 ERA in 14 starts but has not won a game since May 9, against Atlanta.

The left-hander struggled in his most recent start, giving up nine hits and six runs and walking three in 3 1/3 innings against the D-backs on Saturday.

He took solace in the fact that he hit his second career home run in that game.

"I hit a home run on the first pitch, jogged around the bases and came in," Maholm said when asked if the at-bat affected his pitching. "I would rather go 0-for-4 with four punchouts and get deeper into the game and win."

Nevertheless, in the half-inning after Maholm hit his homer, he allowed six runs, aided by an error by Luis Valbuena at third base that Maholm thought could have turned into a double play to end the inning.

"I didn't make any pitches after it, and obviously, it was a grind," Maholm said.

Houston's Friday starter, Bud Norris, has been on the disabled list with a sprained left knee, an injury sustained on June 12, against the Giants.

Norris made a rehab start for Triple-A Oklahoma City on Saturday and threw a bullpen session on Tuesday with no ill effects.

"I went down there and got some good work in, and the leg felt really good, and that's the No. 1 priority," Norris said. "I'm glad to be back. I want to get back in there and help these guys and get back to being in the rotation."

Norris is 5-4 with a 4.81 ERA in 13 starts this season. He won four straight starts beginning on May 5, compiling a 0.35 ERA and a .165 opponents' batting average over that span, but he has not won a game since May 21.

Astros: Altuve sidelined until at least Sunday
Jose Altuve is eager to return to the Astros' lineup, but manager Brad Mills has decided to keep the second baseman out until at least Sunday.

"I was probably a little too optimistic in hoping for Saturday," Mills said on Thursday. "It's not a setback. We want to make sure that he's absolutely right. At the very earliest, it will probably be Sunday. We'll see how it goes today, but it might be Pittsburgh [on Monday]."

• Jed Lowrie leads Major League shortstops in homers with 14. The Orioles' J.J. Hardy and the Nationals' Ian Desmond were tied for second with 11.

Cubs: Rizzo to stay in third spot
Rookie first baseman Anthony Rizzo had one hit in four at-bats on Wednesday after going 2-for-4 in his debut, and manager Dale Sveum indicated that Rizzo would continue to hit third in the lineup.

"You want to get some stability in this lineup," Sveum said. "You call people up who are going to be here a long time, you just want to leave them alone. [Starlin] Castro and [Rizzo], we'll see what happens. I don't want to keep moving things around, because then you can't protect this guy or that guy, and it snowballs into another problem."

• Right-hander Randy Wells was designated for assignment on Wednesday. The 29-year-old veteran had options left, but by designating him for assignment, the Cubs removed him from the roster.

Wells went 1-2 with a 5.34 ERA in 12 Major League games, including four starts, and 2-2 with a 7.71 ERA in six starts with Triple-A Iowa. He struggled on Tuesday against the Mets, giving up three runs on six hits and four walks over three-plus innings.

Worth noting
• The Cubs' move with Wells opens room for them to sign touted Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler.

Soler, 20, was declared a free agent in early June and was courted by several teams. The Cubs won the bidding and reportedly reached agreement on a nine-year, $30 million contract.

The team must sign Soler before July 2, because that's when a new provision in the Collective Bargaining Agreement takes effect, limiting teams to spending $2.9 million on international prospects without penalty.

• Current Astros hitters are batting .188 off Maholm. First baseman Carlos Lee owns a .288 (14-for-54) average against Maholm. Comments